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#AmplifyYourLeadership Lewis & ClarkIt’s not often I get to speak to someone who is equally passionate about Lewis and Clark as I am. I was thrilled to be a guest on The Good Life podcast to talk about the leadership lessons that can be gleaned from the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Host, Sean Murray, and I dig into the expedition in Part I of this two-part interview. Having authored a microbook titled Everything I Learned About Leadership…I Learned from Lewis and Clark and numerous blog posts, I enjoyed the conversation with Sean.

In Part I, we talk about vision, team building, accountability, and diversity as we trace the footsteps of Lewis and Clark on the first part of their epic journey. If you missed it, here is the link!

In Part II, we discuss developing resilience in yourself and your team, overcoming obstacles, and how to make a decision when your team disagrees! Check out this installment of Lewis and Clark!

 

WorkMinusHost Neil Miller and I go deep on why IT departments can no longer be known as the department of “No”.  Technology is now at the center of most businesses. In face, very few industries can survive without technology. IT leaders must be seeking ways to drive the business forward, create new revenue streams, interact with the customer…and the customer’s customer. IT is core to the future of work! Listen to the episode here!

WorkMinus is an organization founded on the future of work. The focus on six key workplace concepts for the future: Leadership, Productivity, Diversity & Inclusion, Workspaces, Technology and Culture.

Humans Now and ThenHost Rebecca Scott and I get real about the changing face of IT. What skills does the IT leader of today and tomorrow need to be successful and drive their businesses forward? The answer may surprise you…it has little to do with technology. Our businesses are demanding more of us in this digital age. While our focus was on the future, we also look to the past and talk about the importance of journal writing and a couple of guys named Lewis & Clark. Listen to our conversation here!

Humans, Now and Then explores how our rapidly changing world impacts our human experience, now and in the future. If you like the show, please share with others to help get them involved in the conversation about the future.

Note from Jeff: in light of the current environment and the dynamic nature of the coronavirus pandemic, I thought it wise to break from my normal format. I’d like to highlight just a few of the words of wisdom I have seen on LinkedIn in the last few days: 

The first two were shared by Dave Linn:

Do not read about best practices for distance learning. That’s not the situation we’re in. We’re in triage mode. Distance learning, when planned, can be really excellent. That’s not what this is. Think about what you must cover and what might be expendable. Thinking you can manage best practices in a day or a week will lead to feeling like you’ve failed.

You can read the post in its entirety here

While Dave was sharing some insights for educators who are having to face the reality of distance learning, I think the same applies to business leaders who are having to face the reality of a remote workforce with little or no time to prepare. 

In another post, Dave reminds us to see who among us needs help:

How can you help? We’re all familiar with the airline safety instruction that someone should put on their own oxygen mask before helping others. That’s also a commonly used business analogy. Leaders need to make sure they are in the right place before they can take care of their teams.

Read what to do next here

Dave reminds us to look outside of our normal “followers”. As leaders, we need to look next door, across the street, and down the block for those that need our help in these times. 

Next from Phillip Berry: 

Peace be with you. Peace in heart and soul. Peace in your physical environment. Peace in the space between your ears. May peace be upon you in this strange and bewildering moment in time.

To read Phil’s full message of peace, click here.  

We are in a chaotic time, unlike any most of us have ever seen. Phil’s wish for us to find peace is a helpful reminder that we as leaders need to find peace and give peace to those around us! 

Thank you to Dave and Phil for reminding us what is truly important in life!

This Question Of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” Comes Up Often

A question came in this week in the form of an email from a former colleague with whom I have stayed in touch: 

“I would like to get together with you again for advice on where to go next. I still have a responsible position but didn’t get the leadership position cemented that I would have liked. 

When I met with you a few years ago, I said that I really enjoyed being the decision-maker or at least the one pulling the options together and obtaining approval of the recommended approach. 

After all this time, my boss is still at many times unavailable and leaves me to run many things.

But I don’t get the recognition I desire.

One of our main programmers just told me last week, “You’re doing almost everything.”

It is lonely being in this position, yet I don’t get anywhere asking for a regular 1:1 with my boss. 

Nor do I get the kudos I need to keep going on at this company.  

It’s been crazy busy as we are implementing a new system this Nov or Dec, also, and I’m a key person in the configuration. 

I just need another professional opinion on where to go next.

I don’t necessarily want to abandon all this and I have 15 years at this position, 8-9 in this particular role.” 

I think the question is one we all struggle with from time to time: “Should I stay or should I go?”

Step One: Reflection

One of the exercises I recommend to anyone who is in transition (or, in this case, contemplating transition) is to make a Top Ten List (borrowed from Letterman, but not near as funny).

Actually, I recommend three top ten lists.

Top Ten things you would use to describe the perfect:

  • job
  • boss
  • company 

In the case of someone contemplating a move, they should try not to think about their current job.

The bias may come through and they could end up with the top ten things they would prefer to change at their current job. 

Then force rank each list 1 to 10 (no ties). 

Step Two: Evaluate

Once you have those ranked lists, then think about your current job, boss and company.

Check each one that describes where you are now. 

It sounds like you are dissatisfied with your current position.

Does this exercise support that feeling?

Make you feel better or worse?

Leaving someplace where you have invested so much of your time and effort is difficult. Earlier in my own career, I had 12 years at one employer and 15 years at another. 

Leaving was incredibly difficult.

But…I wanted more. 

I think you have to ask yourself “why”.

What…

  1. drives you?
  2. motivates you?
  3. gets you excited to get up every day and go to work?
  4. things do you want to accomplish in the next three years?
  5. things do you want to accomplish in the next five years?

Step Three: Compare

If, after this exercise, you are still feeling stuck, network.

Talk to people about their roles in their organizations.

Share your top ten list with them.

How would they rank their position on your list?

Go on a few interviews. (This has the added benefit of keeping your resume current and interviewing skills sharp).

How do those roles rank on your list? 

So…should you stay or should you go?

Only you can answer that question.

Your top ten lists are going to be different than mine – chances are they will be different for everyone.

You may find your current role ranks pretty well in comparison…or, you may find it ranks dismally low. 

Do you relate?

If you relate to the above conversation, I would love to hear from you.

What are your Top 10 Lists?

Where does your current role rank?

Do you have different advice for my colleague? 

Post a comment, send an email, or give me a call!

I want to hear your stories! 

You Can Develop Resilience

I chose to use this quote to talk about resilience when the world is on edge due to the Coronavirus.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” 

Chinese Proverb –

No, the irony is not lost on me.

In its own way, this proverb says a lot about resilience.

As leaders, we cannot stand up one day and say, “Today, we are going to be resilient.” It takes time, it takes effort, it takes practice.

I’ve been involved in Information Technology disaster recovery in some way, shape, or form for over 30 years.

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that you must be prepared. Being prepared means:

  • planning ahead.
  • putting processes and procedures in place.
  • testing the plan.

These same principles apply to personal resilience, team resilience, and organizational resilience.

Is your organization ready?

Is your team ready?

Are you ready?

Five Keys to Resilience

Building resilience in your team is much like building resilience in yourself.

Your team needs to learn when:

  1. faced with insurmountable odds, change the narrative;
  2. a retreat is not an option, face their fears;
  3. they are physically and mentally exhausted, take time to rest;
  4. each day brings new challenges, reflect on the day but move ahead; 
  5. mistakes occur, don’t hold grudges – instead forgive. 

Change the Narrative

We’ve all heard the axiom, usually attributed to Einstein, that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Nowhere is this truer than in the practice of building resilience.

To change the narrative, try changing your perspective as you look at a problem.

We tend to get myopic as we struggle with a problem; by elevating our view, we get a different perspective (picture climbing a hill to observe the landscape ahead).

Many times this process reveals a different path forward.

Face your fears

Our brain has a way of showing us the worst possible outcome of a situation, even if that outcome isn’t all that probable.

Many times retreat (or procrastination, or avoidance) is not an option, and in fact, can lead to a worse outcome. Take that step and move forward with confidence.

By facing our fears, we build confidence; confidence builds resilience.

Facing our fears does not mean we are not afraid, but it means we are strong enough to move forward despite being afraid. 

Rest

Sounds simple enough.

Our bodies and our minds get tired. We need time to recharge and our teams need time to recharge.

When faced with a challenge, rest can be just what we need.

This may be taking a break from an intense project by sending your team home early or even giving them an extra day off.

It may seem counterintuitive to rest with a deadline looming, but you and your team will come back the next day reinvigorated and ready to attack the problem head-on. 

Reflect

Reflection is not the same as rest. It helps to spend time reflecting on the day and on its challenges.

Some may use journaling (or blogging), some may use meditation, and some may use yoga or running.

The key is to think back over your day. What worked – and what didn’t? How did you react and why? What would you do differently the next time?

Writing down your reflections enables you to review them and learn from them in the future.

As your perspectives change, so too will the lessons in your reflections. 

Forgive

This may seem out of place in a post about resilience, but not holding grudges – and not letting others’ mistakes eat you up – will help you be more resilient.

This is true for us as individuals and for teams.

Others are going to make mistakes.

Others are going to let us down.

Holding grudges merely serves to build walls and silos in an organization.

Forgive and move on! 

Do You Feel Resilient?

If you don’t feel resilient, or you don’t believe your team is resilient, now is the time to develop the necessary skills.

Don’t wait another day.

Resilience is something you should continue to develop: learn the skills; put processes in place; and practice, practice practice.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

How do you practice being resilient? 

 

As faithful readers know, my father recently passed away. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but in one final breath, I became the patriarch of the Ton family (going back at least four generations). It is now my responsibility to pass on the stories, to pass on the traditions, to respect the past and those who have come before. 

One of the joys of the last few years has been taking my grandsons, Braxton and Jordan, to visit my dad, Popper (or great-Popper) – to see his face light up when those little guys would bound into his room, show him their new games, or demonstrate their latest artwork. Dozens of images come to mind…Braxton pushing my dad in his wheelchair on the last Thanksgiving he would visit our house, or crawling onto his bed to play games with him when Dad could no longer get up. Jordan telling a story so funny both of them were laughing and giggling, or Dad wearing Jordan’s Easter hat to the delight of the little red-head. 

Two months almost to the day of dad’s passing, we welcomed Jasper Bryant Ton into the world. The second son of my second son. What an amazing joy to hold that little life in my arms, to look into his eyes. I could not help but think of my dad. He did not have a chance to meet Jasper, but I know he would adore him. My heart was overflowing with love. 

Braxton’s and Jordan’s memories of their time with my dad will fade, Jasper has no memories to fade.  Yes, there are pictures, hundreds of pictures, but it will be the stories that provide the connection. I want them to know of his laugh, his smile, his compassion, his goofy sense of humor. Most of all, I want them to know of his love, love for my mom, love for his family, and love for his fellow man and woman. 

I treasure the moments I have with my kids and my grandkids. Even on days when I am preoccupied with work, or too tired and crabby to be patient, or when there thousands of tasks that don’t get done. I celebrate my role as patriarch – to tell stories of Mary Ellen and Gene, Lawrence and Sara, Hallie and Mary and the generations who came before. 

Welcome to the world, Jasper Bryant Ton. You have been born into a family that loves you dearly. You have been born into a family with an amazing story. I can’t wait to share it all with you. 

 

Employee Engagement = Vision

It’s a topic that continually comes up in conversation with business leaders. How do I get my employees engaged? How do I keep them engaged? It’s all about vision.

Most people want to be a part of something larger than themselves. 

In my video post on LinkedIn last week, I posed the question, “Do you have a vision so compelling that people want to join you on the journey to achieve your vision?”

To me, it’s a fundamental question of leadership.

I believe we all want followers who:

  1. are engaged
  2. want to achieve what we want to achieve
  3. are so fanatical about our shared vision that they spend every day moving toward that vision. 

As leaders, we need to learn to paint. Yes, paint. 

Start with your vision

You have a vision.

You DO have one, right?

Is it aspirational?

Does it serve as a guide for current and future initiatives?

Is it compelling?

Does it go beyond the numbers?

I read a great blog post a few years ago. It was titled something like “Your ROI is Not a Vision”. In it, the author explained why your vision must go beyond the numbers. Profitability, revenue, and EBITDA may get you up in the morning, but for most of your team, that is not what gets them:

  • engaged
  • excited, or
  • up in the morning. 

Your employees want something to believe in – something aspirational.

If your vision doesn’t give them that, they will never be fully engaged.

You may need to reexamine your vision…right now. 

Learning to paint

You have a vision! Now, you have to communicate it…to everyone… every day.

You have to paint a picture of your vision so compelling that people want to join your company just to be a part of it. Painting this picture takes time – often more time than developing the vision itself. 

Let’s play a game of word association. I am going to say (okay, type) a word. I want you to respond with the first word that pops in your head.

Ready? 

Ball.

Ok. How many thought “game” or “bat” or “basket” or a “fancy party”? All great “pictures” in our mind’s eyes of a ball. But, we aren’t on the same page.

Let’s try again…

Baseball.

Ok, now what came to mind? “Stadium”, “Cubs”, “Cardinals”? Some may even have thought “boring”. Again, we are closer, but we still have different pictures in mind. 

What if we spent time as a group talking about our baseball? It’s brand new. It comes in a box. When we open the box, it is wrapped in that white crinkly paper. The smell of the leather reaches our nostrils.

As we unwrap the ball, the leather is bright white. The red stitching literally pops in contrast. As we run our fingers along the stitches, they feel like a washboard. The leather is soft, but the ball is hard. We see the major league baseball logo, the commissioner’s signature. 

Now, when I say “Let’s play ball”, chances are great that we will all see the same image in our minds. That is painting a picture. That is putting your listener or reader into the picture. 

I would love to hear from you. What is your vision?

Have you painted a picture for your followers?

Can they see themselves in that picture?

Post a comment, send an email, or give me a call!

I want to hear your stories! 

The question of a good or bad boss started with a phone call from a business colleague, who also happens to be a reader of this newsletter.

I had just hosted a podcast titled “Powerful Lessons from Bad Bosses” in which I interviewed John Rouda. In the episode, we traded some war stories about some of the horrible bosses we have had in our careers. The business colleague raised an interesting question and a challenge. 

The Boss Question?

Why is it that some aspiring leaders are more focused on not exhibiting the negative traits of bad bosses instead of focusing on the positive traits of the good ones? 

The Boss Challenge?

Write a post encouraging leaders to model good leaders and mentors. 

My Initial Reaction

Maybe it is human nature…the negative is more memorable than the positive.

Just watch the evening news…storms, fires, accidents, political discord…it grabs our attention. The feel-good story is cute but draws little reaction. It certainly doesn’t draw in an audience. 

Perhaps a bad boss impacts us in the same way. 

Perhaps, it is because the pain and discomfort caused by a bad boss hit our psyches deeper than the affirmations we receive from a good boss. 

I thought back on my own career. I have had some truly bad bosses. They certainly are memorable.

I once had a boss tell me to fire one of my team members because they walked too slowly across the parking lot. “If they walk that slow, they must code that slow”.

Have those bosses impacted my leadership style?

Without a doubt!

Did I consciously try to avoid the methods that I viewed as “bad”?

I most certainly did. 

The Bad Boss Characteristics

I have had a lot of bosses during my career, some good, some bad, some a little bit of both. I’ve tried to learn from all of them… 

  • Micromanager?

I try to provide an environment of autonomy. I love the way one of my bosses described his style, “autonomy with accountability”.

Great way to counterbalance the Micromanager. 

  • RIP (Retired in Place)?

Now that I have reached the twilight of my own career, I certainly do not want to be remembered as RIP.

I would rather be remembered like a boss that continually tried to battle the status quo, to inspire a team to greatness, a boss who would always go to bat for the team. 

  • Tyrant?

Never. Not my personality.

If management and leadership involved belittling those around me, I wanted no part of it. I try to be patient, I try to be kind, I try to be encouraging.

I’d rather coach and teach than yell and scream! 

The Good Boss Characteristics

  • Servant?

Absolutely!

In the early 2000s, I was introduced to the Servant Leader, through the book by the same name. That was the type of leader I wanted to be.

I have had several bosses during my career that I would describe as servant leaders. Their focus was on us, their team. They:

  1. cared about our careers.
  2. cared about us.
  3. removed roadblocks.
  4. held us accountable.
  • Mentor?

A resounding yes!

I have had some wonderful mentors throughout my career. Some were my boss, most were not. Some probably didn’t even know I thought of them as mentors.

I continue to work with mentors, even while mentoring others. To me, it is one of the best ways to learn. I think I learn more from those I mentor than they ever learn from me. 

  • Strategic?

Transformational? Sign me up!

Those leaders who have a vision, can articulate that vision, can lead us toward that vision are the leaders I will follow anywhere!

That is the type of leader I strive to be each and every day. I don’t always succeed. It takes time, energy, and a perspective of the future. 

The Question and the Challenge

I believe it takes both.

I wish all managers were great leaders.

That fact is, not all of them are. We can:

  • learn from both.
  • learn what to do…and what NOT to do.
  • observe, we tune, we seek feedback. 

I would love to hear from you.

What type of boss has impacted you the most?

What have you learned from your bosses…good, bad?

How do you encourage those around you to learn and grow as leaders?

Post a comment, send an email, give me a call! I want to hear your stories! 

This eulogy was delivered at First Baptist Church on January 11, 2020, and at Hoosier Village Chapel on January 13, 2020, in honor of my daddy, coach, dad, popper, pop, Gene Ton. If you are interested in watching a video of the entire service, you can find it here: L. Eugene Ton. (Note: the first 30 seconds are a black screen with the brass quintet playing. The video then fades in.)

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My heart hurts. Our hearts hurt. 

Despite the pain, we want to celebrate. Celebrate an amazing life and a truly incredible man. 

Before I get to that, I want to let you in on a little secret. Dad wasn’t perfect. I can remember as clear as day. He and I were repairing the gutters on our home in Evansville (you see, someone’s basketball kept crashing into them, must have Joel’s, mine always swished through the hoop). Anyway, there we were, dad up on the ladder and me holding it steady. When it happened. With a mighty swing of the hammer, expecting to hear the metal on metal clang of the hammer, I heard instead, metal on thumb. Yes, that might blow smashed his thumb. Time seemed to slow down. I could see it building up. His face growing red. I thought, here it is, I am finally going to hear my dad say “damn”…or worse. His face now covered in a grimace. Here it came…”fffffffiddlesticks!” Yep, Fiddlesticks. That was our dad. 

I am sure all the family could regale you with other stories of dad, probably some that actually show some imperfections. He truly was special. We are so happy to celebrate him with you. We shared him with all of you for most of his life. I’d like to do something a bit unusual. I always loved it when dad would do something unusual in his sermons. One of the things he did that always caught my attention, was when he would come out from behind the pulpit and step down to be with the congregation. Sometimes he would become a character in his sermon: Peter; James; Paul. Other times he would just talk with us. I’ll tell you, for a junior and senior high kid, it really made me sit up and pay attention. Heck, it made the whole congregation sit up and pay attention to what he was saying. 

No, I’m not going to be one of the disciples today, THAT would be a bit of a stretch. But, I am going to involve all of you for a moment. 

In honor of dad, I’d like you to stand if dad officiated your wedding (some of us had the honor of him doing that for us more than once). Now, stay standing. 

If dad officiated one of your children’s weddings, please stand. 

How about baptism? If he baptized you, please stand. 

Please stand if he officiated a funeral for a loved one or family member. 

How many here were the benefit of his wise counsel over the years, you don’t have to tell us why, your secret is safe. Please stand. 

How many here felt the warmth of his smile, the comfort of his greeting, the guidance of his leadership? 

If you are not standing by now, please stand. Please join me in thanking him, by repeating after me. “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord”. {repeat} 

Thank you, you can be seated. 

We all experienced dad in different ways. Even those who he and mom raised experienced him differently. 

For me, first, there was daddy, playing in the yards of the parsonages in Lafayette and Lebanon. Pushing me in the swing. Teaching me to ride a bike without training wheels in the alley. Building Pinewood Derby cars for the annual Cub Scout tradition. His annual tradition for Memorial Day: take his small transistor radio out to the garage, tune in the Indy 500 and wash and wax his car. It was an exciting day when I finally got to help! We learned quickly that daddy was different than most. Daddy was Reverend Ton, unlike most kids not only did we live next door to his “office”, but we went there multiple times a week. People treated him differently, people treated us differently. What I remember most about daddy was his smile. 

Next came Coach…Little League Baseball…Flag football, teaching me to shoot a layup on the goal behind the garage. He was there with patience and gentle coaching (sometimes not so gentle coaching). This is where dementia may have been a bit of a blessing. To hear him tell it today, I was an all-star catcher in Little League. Uh, dad, You coached the all-star team because our team won first place. I said the Little League pledge for the Allstar game because I wasn’t didn’t make the team. How he became my Little League coach is a microcosm of the type of man he was, the type of father he was. After watching a couple of my team’s practices and observing the way the coach treated us; yelling, screaming, cursing. Dad tried to coach the coach on a better approach. Professionally, not in front of the kids, in private. The guy quit. Rather than going to the league to find another coach, dad stepped up and became a coach. What I remember most about the coach was his patience. 

By the time we were in Evansville he was just “dad”. Evansville was much bigger than Lebanon. Dad was learning how to lead an urban church, and I was learning about high school. Dad was still “Reverend Ton”…I can remember my mom and dad giving a tour of the parsonage to a group of “old ladies” from the church (they were probably 60!). As they passed my brother’s room, she remarked, “Oh and this must be Reverend Ton’s room.” Uh, no! He slept down the hall with my mother. There were four of us for Pete’s sake, as far as I know, there has only been one immaculate conception. Despite the fact that he was Reverend Ton to most, to me he was dad. He was the guy I could go to for anything. He was the guy that would do anything for us. During this time, he taught me the game of golf. Dad loved golf. Of all the sports, golf was king. At first, I got to tag along with the foursome, take a few swings here and there. Later, just the two of us would go. Inevitably, they would pair us up with another twosome. I noticed dad always introduced himself as “Gene”. Not Reverend Ton. When I asked him about it, his answer was simple, “if I introduce myself as Reverend, they will act differently because I am a pastor. They may not enjoy themselves as much, so here I am “just Gene”. When I was a freshman in college, and homesick…it was him I called. It was him who provided the reassurance I needed to hear, not only in his words but in the sound of his voice through the phone. What I remember most about dad was his quiet leadership. 

Along about 1978, he became grandpa…Popper as my kids and my sister’s kids called him. Dad would have been in his late 50’s and into his 60’s. The great Reverend Doctor, the leader of leaders, the pastor of pastors became putty in the hands of those little creatures. He would laugh, and joke and smile ear to ear. Popper loved Christmas, he and Mimi both did. But if Mimi was the queen of Christmas, dad was the king of Easter. He would spend hours hiding eggs in the yard. So many eggs, he had to have a map in case the five grandkids couldn’t find them all. And, then. And then, there was the Easter play. A silly little play about Captain Dan the Fried Egg Man. We all had a role. Even the littlest ones could do sound effects. But it was popper, it was dad, who took it up a notch. Creating costumes for his characters, using different funny voices as he played different roles. He may not have been a hit on Broadway, but he was a hit with the little ones! What I remember most about Popper was his humor. 

The last few years, he became “Pop”. I’m not sure if that was a shortened version of “Popper”, the name the grandkids call him, or sign of the change in our relationship. The parent became the child, and the child became the parent. It has been an honor to be on this journey with him, whether we were going toe-to-toe: “Quit treating me like a child!” “You quit acting like one!” Gee, where have I heard THAT before; or taking in an Indians game, telling the same stories, laughing at the same jokes game after game, year after year; or sitting quietly in his room at Hoosier Village just “being”. A few years ago, when I was contemplating a career move, the decision to leave Goodwill, a job I loved, a mission I loved and people I loved…I went to Pop. You see, he was still in there. I went to him for guidance. He asked questions, he told stories, he answered my questions about his own career and the choices he had made to leave one church for another or to leave the pulpit and take an executive minister role for the denomination.  True to form…he never gave me the answer. What I remember most about pop was his wisdom. 

We have all experienced dad in different ways…but always the same: funny, caring, compassionate, empathetic, and loving…pastoral…ministering us all…even at the end. 

Join me once again. “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord”. {repeat}

Well done good and faithful father. Enter into the joy of your Lord.